Charles Burford PhD
Charles Burford PhD
Charles Burford PhD
Director of Educational Leadership
Faculty of Education and Education
Australian Catholic University
Friday 24th April, 2014. Nittany Lion
Inn, Pennsylvania State University
Education as moral, ethical and virtuous literacy:
Emergence of the presentation from the question “What are
schools really trying to do?”
The presentation will present a taxonomy that
proposes and attempts to explain how discernment of
moral, ethical and virtuous purposes within differing
dimensions of our life will give educators better
understanding of the pedagogical and curricular
experiences that will further the moral literacy of their
students. The six purposes of the taxonomy will be
described and analysed as a basis for moral literacy
The presentation will also give examples of current
research and practice in moral literacy at the primary,
secondary and tertiary level in four different countries;
the US; Australia; Tonga and Italy; that highlights the
application of the various dimensions of the taxonomy.
Over a period of forty years I experienced a growing awareness
of the moral core of learning and education. This awareness had
its roots in the early 80’s in the work of Donald Willower at
Pennsylvania State University and has developed though
association and research over subsequent years with scholars
associated with the Values and Leadership Conferences and now
The Centre for The Study Of Ethical Education Leadership. These
scholars include Paul Begley, Jerry Starratt, Chris Branson, Jackie
Stefkovich, Joan Shapiro, Steve Gross and Nancy Tuana. The
common theme in their work is the centrality of values, ethics
and morality in education and in particular; educational
leadership. It is fitting that this presentation which has taken
much of it’s stimulation from the work of these scholars is given
here at the Moral Literacy Conference that some of them
initiated and indeed are here tonight.
Penn State Experience
The journey started here at Penn State thirty years ago with a
Why were some people better to work with, easier to live with and
wiser than others. Could this have leadership potential? A sense of
humor seemed like a good idea!
The panacea of life may have been humor literacy, but a Humor
Literacy Dissertation suggested it was interesting and preferable,
but not essential.
What seemed more likely was the development of authentic
relationships and care for others in a professional responsible
environment. This led to a journey of discovery about the morality,
ethics and virtues of leadership.
The start of a journey with Willower who; like Dewey and
Habermas, was searching through the lens of leadership for the
meaning of education (and maybe life).
Observe Willower about what a program in educational leadership
should provide regarding values:
“A conception of values that would abet advancement in
educational administration should have two main
characteristics. First, it should furnish broad visions of
what human beings and schools might become at their
best. Second , it should speak realistically to the problem
of concrete moral choice that is such a salient feature of
And one can add with hindsight: all life!
Maybe some definitions will help!
The United Nations (UNESCO, 2004) defines literacy as the
"ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate
and compute, using printed and written materials associated
with varying contexts.
Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals
to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential,
and to participate fully in their community and wider society
The significance of this definition for the study of moral literacy;
the focus of this colloquium, is its support for the view that the
ultimate purpose of education at any age search is the
fulfillment of human potential.
“Ethos”(Greek)Meaning: Custom,Usage,or Character
“The Science of the Ideal Human Character”
“Moral” (Latin) Meaning:Manner, Good and Right, Virtue,
“Describes What Is Good or Right or Proper.
“Virtues”: Focuses on attitudes, dispositions, values, or
character traits that enable us to be and to act in ways
that develop our human potential.
“It is about the good of the person performing the act as
they value its consequences”.
In its normative sense, "morality" appears to refer to
whatever (if anything) is actually right or wrong, which
may be independent of the values or mores held by
any particular peoples or culture.
While according to the Aristotelian perspective there
are two sorts of virtue:
the dianoethical and the ethical virtues. The former
regards the right practices of our different capabilities
related to knowledge (intuition, inference, technical
knowledge, etc.) while the ethical virtues are about the
practice of values ie. respect, regard, courage,
benevolence or goodwill, justice and patience.
Ethics are the norms and virtues by which
members of a community bind themselves to a
moral way of living.
Starratt (2004) suggests that they are maps that
we consult only when the familiar terrain we are
traversing becomes a tangle of underbrush.
Duignan and Burford (2003) found that for
leaders of service organisations, the choice was
often between two “goods” rather than a “good”
and a “bad”.
In this sense then normative ethics are concerned with
doing right in particular circumstances while the ethical
virtues are about prioritising the practice of values.
Discerning the morality, ethics and virtues of our
actions is at the core field of moral literacy
Moral literacy seems to be about discerning and selecting
RIGHT from WRONG and searching for consistency in
the interpretation of universal values
Ethical literacy seems to be more about discerning and
choosing RIGHT for the specific circumstances by
prioritising competing values perspectives
Virtues literacy is about discerning, choosing and being
consistent in use of values which we have decided will
make us the best person we can be.
Real literacy seems to rest therefore in the values of
our teachers and parents and their capacity to
educate children in values discernment and practice.
Hence the ethical challenges of Stefkovich and
Begley: What is in the best interests of the child?
And The Willower challenge of what would we
look like when we are at our best?
What do schools really mean by the words they
present in their Mission Statements? Is this the
Examples: 1) Returned Australian veterans
2) Canadian in-service of leaders: What
do we want the graduates of Canadian school to be
3) Seven Core Cowboy Values (Owens,
2008) :Courage, Optimism, Self-Reliance,
Authenticity, Honour, Duty, Heart
The answer in every case was good people, people
of character and worth and essentially morally
literate people in their relationships and lives!
So to a search for a model or taxonomy that might
help us as professionals explain where and when
values express themselves.
• Values, ethical beliefs,
• Moral reasoning
• Personal responsibility for
lives of others
• Interior Level
Moral Purpose. Centered on what we
believe as our contribution
to society, our responsibility for the lives of
others and the commitment to act this out.
Our moral purpose is justified by moral
reasoning about the right thing to do.
Tuana’s (2007) model of ‘moral literacy’ involving
ethics sensitivity, ethical reasoning skills and moral
imagination, extends this notion and provides an
ethical framework to effect moral agency, where we
are “ethical agents” (p.375) who are able to “assess
what is held to be valuable in a context” (p. 374).
Common mission, shared vision, core values
“formative power of meaning” (Wheatley): examining
purpose and means
The above are pre-requisite to partnership with
teachers and parents. It is at the core of “social capital”
and ownership of purpose.
• Reflective capacity to understand
reasons for acting
• Self-concept and identity
• Moral potency and capacity to act
• Operationalise beliefs into action
• Branson, Begley, Starratt, and Tuana.
It considers the factors that
operationalise one’s beliefs about self
are put into action, and seeks to explain
how our attitudes towards this sense of
self affects behaviour and practices
Diagrammatical representation of the various dimension of the Self
The first example relates to a research project at the
University of Verona in Northern Italy which
investigated the thoughts and perceptions of 319, year
3 and 4 children about virtues in their lives.
Incorporating a gaming situation using a game titled “
The Virtues Basket” the children had to classify cards
into three categories: jobs, games and virtues.
Children were invited to write what meaning they gave
to one of the virtues written on the cards that they
liked or knew better (honesty, justice, courage etc.) and
were then asked to describe their personal
understanding of the chosen word, rather than a
FORM 1COORDINATOR: Tevita Lea'aetoa
1 L Caring
FORM 4 COORDINATORS: Sitaniselao Vea, Diane Laukaulolo
FORM 6 COORDINATORS: Sione Tausinga, Mele Leakona
Masters of Educational Leadership at The Australian Catholic
To capture the essence of the taxonomy; at the moral and
personal purpose dimension the program incorporate a
compulsory Unit titled :Values and Leadership and an Elective
Unit titled Leadership Spirituality.
The core unit utilises the work and models of Branson (2007)
and Begley (2000) in the investigation of personal values and
self concept leading to ethical investigations using the models
and writings of Shapiro and Stefkovich (2001) and moral
purpose in education using the work of Sergiovanni (2004),
Starratt (2005), Tuana (2007).
The second Unit enables students to discern their spiritual life
and relies on more philosophical and reflective experiences
from a broad range of theological and spiritual writers.
evaluations consistently point to the essential nature of the
Core Unit to the quality of the program and it’s lasting effect on
graduates at both the personal and professional level; especially
those in leadership positions
Professional (Role) Purpose
• Role expectations, norms and
• Beliefs about significance of
contribution to the role
• Measures of role performance
• Codes of conduct
• Involves a person’s
understanding of their role, its
core function, role clarity and
boundaries. However, the
construct also involves an
understanding of their
function in the organisation
and how they can influence
The Covenant of Teaching V Contract of Role
Teacher autonomy and leadership (‘loose coupling’)
Dialogue, evidence-based and collegial.
• Organisational Purpose
considers the practical,
structural factors that
operationalise one’s beliefs
into action, and seeks to
explain how attitudes and
practices of its members affect
current behaviour of the
entity itself. What the
organisation values influences
• Core organisational mission
• What is valued and celebrated
influences decisions about
teaching, learning, leadership,
Coupling is an attempt to understand how the linkages
between leadership, management and organisational
members can be used to explain how the organisation
When leaders are close in operation and supervision of
followers the linkage is described as “tightly coupled”.
But in educational institutions the linkages between
supervision (read management and leaders) and
teachers or other professionals (like you) usually are
not close physically or operationally close.
This was described as:
‘loosely coupled’ (Sergiovanni) and seen to reflect the elements
of “Chaos Theory”(Wheatley).
• ‘Ethical coupling’ concept places a different emphasis
on leadership of professionals
Masters of Educational Leadership at the Australian Catholic
The Function Dimension is captured in the other compulsory
core Unit is titled Perspectives on Leadership and together with
three elective Units titled Leading Educational Change, Leading
Authentic Learning and Leading Educational Change where the
students are offered insights into the function of the educational
The works of Starratt ( 2005), Burford and Bezzina (2012), Fullan
(2009), Duignan (2007), Willower (1991), Hargreaves (2004),
Sergiovanni (2005), Hodgkinson, (1996) and Hatti (2005) form
the theoretical base .
In keeping with the focus on the taxonomy students are
exposed to the contesting forces and the ethical and moral
issues faced as a leader of learning.
In addition most Australian schools have instituted
extensive Leadership programs for student leaders
from age 12-18 years. These programs focus on the
role responsibility, representative activities and
capability training in leadership and group dynamics. In
some schools students are involved in programs
exclusively by senior leaders and trained to take major
responsibility for decision- making and leadership of
artistic, cultural and sporting events.
• Involves the external
contexts that have
the ability to
influence the potency
of individuals to
translate beliefs into
• External context –
• Government and
Public Purpose: The compliance agenda of government requires
a reasonable level of resources already across education
systems to “deliver better education – by putting local
communities in charge of improving the performance of local
schools” (Liberal Party Australia, 2013, p.40). There are political
points to be scored by all sides in the rhetoric around school
improvement, effectiveness and standards (Clarke, 2012, p.
• Cultural values and
• Cultural and societal
• Reciprocity between
Masters of Educational Leadership in this environment
dimension of the program attempts to focus on the contrasting
and competing purposes associated with being schools with
both faith foundation and defined valuing structures as well as
publically and privately funded institutions. The challenge of
leading a school in a secular society that supports all education
while protecting the unique character of schools built on faith
values and parental choice with varying degrees of ecclesial
control becomes the focus of :
Units such as Leading The Catholic School, Faith Leadership,
Policy Formation and Governance and Human Resource
Development in Catholic Schools.
During the 2012 Presidential elections schools in and around
Charlottesville, Virginia ran week long election programs with
students taking on the policies of the two main political parties
and conducting public electioneering and debates which
culminated in formal elections. The passion and expertise of the
students and the sophisticated electoral procedures went a long
way further than the normal civics debates that mark such
events in Australia. These procedures were preparation and
celebrations of the political and constitutional life of Americans
but lived out in the curriculum of a high school.
In Australian Catholic High Schools students undertake weeklong
camps called retreats that focus on their faith life and their
relationships with peers and teachers in the context of a
Catholic school. These experiences have regularly been
identified as the most critical and memorable events in students
school experiences (Flynn, 2002).
The taxonomy attempts to to articulate the levels and types of
valuing that occur in life and show how the values and purposes
interact and compete at and between levels. Hopefully it will
enhance the ability of practiconers to structure discernment of
the complexity of purposes on moral literacy .
However a reflection from Tuana and Bezzina (2012) is
important in the future development of the
taxonomy:“Individuals will only choose a particular moral action
if they are both convinced of its importance and have a sense
that they are capable of acting in this way … Before they will act
in a way that aligns consistently with moral purpose (moral
agency) they need a sense of their own role as an influential
player in this domain (moral potency) reflected in their sense of
a capacity to act in ways that make a difference; their ownership
of, and commitment to moral purpose; a sense of hope; and the
requisite courage to act” (Bezzina & Tuana, 2012, p.6)